Bangladesh produced lakh jute bales and earned a mere $816.27 million by exporting raw jute and jute products in 2018-19 fiscal year
Having a settled life in France, Wasiur Rahman and his family had every opportunity to spend the rest of their life in Europe. But Wasiur had an attachment to the greenery and golden fibre of his homeland.
After he returned to Bangladesh in 2013, he established Craft N Kraft out of his outright love for diversified jute products with a view to promoting them.
Engaged with customers at his stall in Bahumukhi Pat Ponno Mela (diversified jute products fair) on March 10, Wasiur sounded ambitious as he said the demand for diversified jute products was increasing.
"If the government can continue its goodwill to promote this sector, we can expect have brighter prospects in future," he said.
Against the backdrop of various environmental campaigns around the world, jute products these days are privileged with positive press coverage and they have numerous environmental benefits as well.
When asked about the environmental advantages, Wasiur said, "When I began, this thought did not cross my mind. But as the environmental appeal of these products is getting obvious day by day, it makes me more determined and ambitious."
Wasiur, however, is not alone in making change with jute – the golden fibre of Bangladesh.
Amin Ahmed, an official of the Jute Diversification Promotion Centre, which organised the fair under the Ministry of Textiles and Jute, said, "We have 702 such registered SMEs and only 108 of them have stalls in the fair."
"We are promoting diversified jute products in each district keeping in mind the increasing demand as more people are growing conscious about their environmental benefits," he said.
People visiting the fair were seen interested in jute-made wall mat, laundry basket, tea cosy, hat, shoe and particularly, Go Green jute bags.
The 108 stalls in the fair exhibited diversified jute products like shoes and flower vases, and people showed much interest in many of those.
The panic of coronavirus caused stock-out of mask in most of drugstores of Dhaka. Similarly, jute masks in the fair witnessed the craze as they were sold out as soon as they were placed for exhibition.
In pursuit of taking photos, our photographer had to request the customers to put a few of them back for a moment.
Rakib Hasan was selling flower vases at a stall named Agroj.
"We are here for exhibition but sadly, we sold out of the products as demand was high. Now as the minister comes for the ending ceremony, we do not have much left," he said.
Diversified jute products manufacturing is creating jobs for a lot of marginalised people.
Chondona Ahmed, proprietor of Raidah Handicraft, was at the stall of "Golden Glory of Golden Fibre" project funded by the European Union. She said the project helps 14 jute product manufacturing SMEs in Rangpur where around 3,000 people are employed.
"I have my own stall in the fair. We are here not necessarily to sell our products. This is a promotional campaign and we have received good response," Chondona added.
The picture is not all rosy
Everyone in the jute sector, however, is not elated at the diversified product market.
Mahmudul Haque, managing director of Janata Jute Mills, said, "The diversified product market is good but that is only one wing of the jute sector. It is not possible to move forward with diversified products alone if the whole jute industry is not developed."
Bangladesh exported ready-made garments worth $34.13 billion against the import of 69 lakh bales of cotton in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The country, however, produced lakh jute bales and earned a mere $816.27 million by exporting raw jute and jute products in that period, according to data from the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute and the Export Promotion Bureau.
Bangladesh got the right to invent high-yielding and good quality jute varieties in 2017 after a team of Bangladeshi scientists led by Dr Maqsudul Alam successfully decoded the genome sequence of jute in 2013.
But ever since, according to the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute, only one high-yielding variety called Rabi-1 has successfully reached the field level and a few more are in the process.
The export earnings of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation have declined – from Tk642.81 crore in fiscal year 2001-02 to Tk256.85 crore in 2018-19. The private sector, in the meantime, has witnessed growth though.
Bangladesh Jute Spinners Association's export earnings have increased by 590 percent in that period.
Private mill owners think this scenario can be changed by inventing more profitable products and replacing the traditional jute goods with those.
"The government needs to conduct a survey on jute products that are in great demand and the prospect of those goods," Bangladesh Jute Spinners Association Secretary General Shahidullah Karim told The Business Standard.
Mohammad Usman Gani Miaji is the director of technology at the jute research institute. He told The Business Standard that despite higher prices of jute products compared to plastic products, "there is a demand for these environment-friendly products in both the local and global markets."
Habibur Rahman, an official of the Ministry of Textiles and Jute, said the government has enforced the use of jute bag wrapping for various products like paddy, rice, wheat and corn.
"Mandatory jute sack wrapping of around a dozen more such products is in the process of implementation," Habibur added.
Entrepreneurs ask for adequate government incentives
While Habibur kept on praising various government projects, including such obligatory use of traditional yarn and sack which has little appeal in the international market, Wasiur said he has some reservations as he mentioned the falling government incentives in this sector.
"With adequate government incentives, we could participate in international fairs abroad," Wasiur said.
"Besides, earlier this year, the government was supposed to distribute around one crore jute bags to school students. But sadly, it backtracked from the plan which dealt a blow to the business," he added.
As people's interest in jute products increases, entrepreneurs in this sector said adequate government incentives and continuous support could help the country's golden fibre go global.